REVIEW: BU21 (Theatre 503)

BU21 takes on the question that most of us tend to avoid: how would I cope? If it happened to me, how would I bear it? Each of the six young Londoners in Stuart Slade’s new play has been caught up in a terrorist attack in Fulham – the deadliest since 9/11. We follow their journey through a series of testimonials and interactions as they struggle to come to terms with what they have been through and what they have lost.

They are six very different people, thrown together in a survivors’ support group to share their experiences of the attack. Thalissa (Thalissa Teixiera) opens the play with her account of the 22nd July and it’s completely disturbing. Each of the stories is chilling and feels real – around two-thirds of the way through the play I realised I’d become so caught up that I’d forgotten BU21 has not actually happened.

This is despite the fact that Slade brings one character – Alex (Alex Forsyth) – through the fourth wall to chat periodically with the audience. He mocks us for watching a ‘circle-jerk of self-indulgent misery-porn’ and we enjoy some laughs about how theatre audiences are supposed to be champagne socialists. BU21 has the kind of humour that allows you to laugh at some frankly horrendous things, and laughing is a relief from the intensity of the subject matter. Slade’s fresh, intelligent writing is full of life and action, which is a subtle message of strength all on its own. He also absolutely nails the sweary and sardonic way that most young people talk.

Each character finds their own winding path through the madness. Graham (Graham O’Mara) supplies us with the obligatory dewy-eyed declaration of Londoners standing ‘shoulder to shoulder’ in solidarity – all a sham in fact as he uses the fallout from the attack to his own ends. We get a healthy dose of love-against-the-odds with Floss (Florence Roberts) of the west London intelligentsia and Clive (Clive Keene) who is the son of a Pakistani immigrant. Ana (Roxana Lupu) gives us a raw insight into the physical injuries she can heal from and the mental suffering that she just can’t.

Absolute credit must go to each of the six actors for powerfully communicating suffering and PTSD without veering into overly dramatic Hollywood-style clichés. They balance the trauma which separates their lives from ours with language and a sense of humour that any member of the audience can identify with or recognise. It’s a very clear signal: don’t get too comfortable. This absolutely could be you. But if it is – you’ll find a way through it, however messy.

Reviewed by Annabel Mellor
Photo: David Monteith-Hodge

BU21 plays at Theatre 503 until 9 April 2016